|INTRODUCTION: A TRANSFORMED UNIONISM FOR A TRANSFORMED WORLD
The concept of a new social unionism (NSU) is intended to relate to
and be appropriate for our contemporary world. This is a world increasingly
marked by the dramatic expansion and equally dramatic transformations of
capitalist, military, state, imperial, technical and patriarchal forms
and powers. It is consequently marked by the appearance of what I will
call the new alternative social movements (NASMs - feminist, anti-militarist,
human-rights, ecological, etc.) alongside such old ones as those of religion,
nation or labour.
There have been different responses to this new situation on the left,
even amongst those who admit the changes. One has been to re-assert the
centrality of capitalism and the primacy of the capital-labour contradiction.
Another has been to see ours as a post-capitalist, post-industrial, post-Marxist,
post-historical or post-modern era, and to see the new social subjects,
identities and movements as replacing the working (or any other) class.
A third has been to re-conceptualise and broaden the understanding of work
and therefore the role of labour movements. I do not care for the either/or
choice offered by the first and second position, largely because both seem
to subordinate or exclude much common contemporary human experience and
protest. I prefer a synthetic (dare one say historical and dialectical?)
view recognising both continuity and transformation. I am therefore drawn
to the third position, because it looks both backward and forward, and
because it works up and out from an impasse the unions are presently in.
But we must also remember that the overwhelming majority of the world's
workers (including the traditionally-defined proletariat) is not unionised.
And, even if defined as workers, the overwhelming majority of the poor,
powerless, marginalised and alienated are not unionisable. Furthermore,
the major international movement of the present day is not so much a labour
or socialist one as a broad, varied and complex democratic movement - of
which labour is but one part. In so far as one can generalise about the
NASMs as contemporary pluralist democratic movements, the case for looking
at the unions from their angle, or in the light of their experience, rests
1. New bases for a new model
I will summarise the argument for a new union model in five major points.
There is a growing crisis in trade unionism, a crisis that goes beyond
policy, ideology, or particular world area, to the very nature and form
of unionism as we know it. The communist and radical-nationalist (populist)
union models have more or less collapsed, both where they are `in power'
and where they are not. The most-advanced social-democratic model, in Sweden,
is in crisis. Even the most-successful of the `social movement unions',
in Brazil and South Africa, are struggling to come to terms with at least
semi-liberal democracy. No new model is taking shape in the ex-communist
world and it is unclear what conventional shape it could take there.
This is due to a) a revolution within capitalism as profound and
significant as that from craft to industrial production; b) the transformation
from the internationalisation of capital to the globalisation of society;
c) the passage from a simple capitalism to a complex one. Let us take
these in turn.
A) Capitalism is, as Marx recognised, a system of continual self-transformation.
The `industrial revolution' was, after all, a revolution that took place
inside capitalism, replacing hand/craft production by `machinofacture'
- industrial production. This required a transformation of the traditional
form of labour self-defence from the craft guild to the industrial trade
union. The `information revolution' is another revolution inside capitalism
(the successful revolutions of our era seem to have been inside rather
than against capitalism). This transformation is based on computerised
production of computerised goods, services, information and culture. It
is currently the leading edge of capitalism, making both possible and necessary
(for capitalists) the worldwide reduction, destruction, restructuring and
division of the labour force, labour processes, forms of ownership, coordination
and control. A geographically-concentrated and socially-homogenous industrial
working class of semi-skilled factory labourers is being increasingly replaced
by socially diverse and geographically dispersed labour forces - homeworkers,
part-timers, sub-contractees, in towns, villages and distant countries.
When a Peruvian worker declares that `being a worker is a relative matter'
(Parodi 1986), he (he?) puts in question a union form based on quite different
assumptions. The familiar trade union, based on the model of the life-long,
full-time male worker in large-scale private of public employment, is decreasingly
relevant and effective.
B) With the collapse of the communist and radical-nationalist states
and blocks, the internationalisation of capital has been finally achieved.
`Globalisation' refers both to this process and to its completion. But
it also implies the internationalisation of politics (the competitive-party
parliamentary system), of domestic patterns (the nuclear family ideal),
of culture (rock, pop, TV soap operas, MacDonalds, CNN). Unions, historically
oriented towards increasing national worker access to private or
public consumption goods and power, are having little success in addressing
either an informatised capitalism or a globalised one (for a feminist view
of globalisation, including its impact on women's labour, see Eisenstein
C) Capitalism can no longer be thought of in terms of an economic `base'
and a dependent `superstructure' of politics, culture, ideology (actually,
it never should have been so thought of). The spheres of capital, state,
culture, family, are increasingly interdependent, explaining both the resilience
of the system and its vulnerability. Resilience: the destruction of the
capitalist `base' (as in communist revolutions) evidently did not destroy
the state (and statism), the commodity (and money-worship) or the family
(and patriarchy). Vulnerability: this lies in the increasing dependence
of the reproduction of capitalism on these other spheres - implying in
turn the increasing relevance of cross-class or non-class struggles for
human rights, ecological sustainability, peace, against patriarchy, for
freedom of sexual choice, for a democratic, varied and transformatory culture.
Whilst this capitalist revolution may reduce the centrality of the
labour/capital conflict, it dramatically increases both the number, significance
and scale of social contradictions. Given the decreasing relative number,
increasing differentiation and geographical spread of workers, any self-proclamation
by the unions or labour movement of the priority of their struggle leads
to the danger of self-marginalisation, where capital and state can caricature
them as a small minority of the people, self-interested and anti-social.
The same is true of any labour dismissal of the NASMs (human rights, peace,
ecology, women) as `single-issue', `bourgeois' or `western'. The NASMs
are better thought of as `fundamental-issue' movements, since peace, ecological
sustainability, and human rights for the majority of the world population
(women), would seem to be conditions for the existence of any minimally
humane society, capitalist or not! In so far as workers are increasingly
recognised as - or asserting themselves - in favour of rights, peace, a
clean environment and gender-awareness, they can both broaden the appeal
of unionism and increase the number of their allies.
The NASMs arising from such contradictions are not only allies of
the old democratic class and popular movements but also suggest appropriate
new organisational forms and modes of struggle to them. Unions, typically,
take on forms determined by the structure and organisation of capital,
of labour markets (the craft union, the industrial union), of the state
(which is why they are basically national, typically paying but one percent
of their income to their international confederations). But they tend to
retain such forms long after capital has changed, making them ineffective
even in defence against its worst new abuses. The typical organisational
form for the new global social movements is less the organisation than
the network. The union form - participatory ideals notwithstanding - has
always been affected by the `iron law of oligarchy' (Michels 1915), meaning
self-continuation of leadership and top-down control. The idea of national
and international `networking' (Guzman and Mauro 1996), which includes
temporary coalitions and longterm alliances between groups, is of a horizontal
coordination rather than a vertical one, something held together more by
shared needs and values than by subordination, discipline, loyalty and
faith. Thus the organisational/political model is increasingly being replaced
by a networking/communication one. The labour movement gets less and less
space in national and international media, and its own media and cutural
activities have - with exceptions - declined rather than developed over
the last 50 years. The reverse seems to be the case with such NASMs as
those of human rights, the environment and women, which increasingly recognise
communication and culture as terrains of struggle with their own logic
and political impact.
The terrain of struggle increasingly spreads from `economics' and
`politics' to `society' as a whole, and it equally shifts from the national
level both downwards to the local and upwards to the global. Conventional
labour movements - left, right and centre - typically prioritise `economic
struggle' (against capital), or `political struggle' (against the state),
or varying combinations and stages of the one and the other (the political-economic
unionism of Richard Hyman 1994). This made sense in the period of the capitalist
nation-state, or of `nation-state-dependent' capitalism. But the new or
revived notion of `civil society' indicates another new terrain of struggle
- that of popular self-organisation outside, or independent of, capital
and state. There has, thus, been increasing recognition of the importance
of `society' as a disputed terrain, and as one central to social emancipation
and transformation. The centrality of the nation-state during the period
of industrial capitalism has increasingly been challenged, both by international
bodies and forces (both inter-state and `inter-civil-society') and by sub-national
communities (regional, ethnic, local). Conventional unions, oriented to
the `national economy', the `nation state', find it difficult to operate
at these new, increasingly important, social levels. Thus, the International
Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) made little impact on the UN
Social Summit in Copenhagen, 1995, where dramatic political activity was
carried out rather by movement-oriented non-governmental organisations
(NGOs). This contrasts sharply with the impact of women's movements and
NGOs at and on the World Conference on Women in Beijing, in the same year
(Vargas 1996). And it would seem that this impact was not so much despite
the lack of an International Confederation of Free Women's Organisations
as because of this!
Now let us look at the relationship of this argument with the development
of the new body of emancipatory theory.
2. The development of social movement theory
Origins of the new orientation
From the later-1970s there began to develop a new body of theory, stressing
social movements as the focal point of social transformation and therefore
for social analysis. Reference was to `new social contradictions', `new
social subjects' and, of course, `new social movements' (women's, peace,
ethnic, ecological, consumer, etc.). Those coming from the Marxist tradition
were also drawing, implicitly or explicitly, from Marx, where he says:
Communism is for us not a state of affairs which is to be established,
an ideal to which reality [will] have to adjust itself. We call communism
the real movement which abolishes the present state of things. (Arthur
1970:56-7. Original stress)
More specifically, they were drawing from Gramsci, and breaking with the
notion of revolution as the seizure of the state and the nationalisation
of the means of production. Worker struggles, here, are neither condemned
as `economic/reformist', nor glorified as `political/revolutionary', but
recognised as representing one front or site of political struggle that
must be articulated intimately with others if the `present state of things'
is to be abolished. In summary, and in distinction from an economic-determinist
and class-reductionist Marxism-Leninism: the economic and social structure
is seen as determined by political struggle; classes as shaped and re-shaped
through struggle; all struggles are understood as political struggles;
the problem is seen - simultaneously - as the interlocked and interdependent
structures of capital, state, industrialism, patriarchy, imperialism and
racism; the end is the overcoming of exploitation and domination throughout
society; this project is seen as realisable only by the articulation of
the autonomous demands of different types of workers, of the working class
and other `working classes', of class, democratic and popular demands.
Characteristics of the NASMs
In differentiating the new social movements from the traditional labour
movement, Alberto Melucci (1989:205-6) identifies four new structural characteristics.
These are 1) the centrality of information (the struggle for that which
is concealed and over the meaning of what is revealed), 2) new forms of
organisation (e.g. informal, democratic, self-empowering), 3) the integration
of the latent and visible, the personal and the political, and 4) a `planetary'
consciousness (a new kind of global awareness). Whilst, as we will see,
these characteristics may not be as new as suggested, the very recognition
and assertion of their importance certainly differentiates the NASMs
from traditional labour organisations - customarily centralised and bureaucratic
bodies, dominated by their leaderships and/or outside forces, commonly
seen as instrumental to other ends (Economic or Political Development,
Independence, The Revolution, Socialism).
Women, as we know, form over half of the world's population and do well
over half of the world's work. Recent feminist reflection on the consciousness
and self-organisation of women workers therefore tells us about workers
as well as women, and has implications for the strategies of labour as
well as women's movements. After considering case studies of women workers
from India and Nigeria, Chhachhi and Pittin (1996) put forward the following
propositions: 1) the contradictory and historically specific impact of
patriarchy, capitalism and colonialism leads to fragmented and diverse
experiences, leading to multiple identities amongst both female and male
workers; 2) such identities are selectively mobilised and asserted in response
to specific forms of manipulation and repression; 3) the separation of
the private and the public, the factory and the home, the personal and
political leads not to opposed spheres or strategies, but rather to a profusion
and overlapping of identities, spaces and possible strategies; 4) the double
burden of women's work can be as much an impetus to organising as an obstacle.
Bearing in mind the worldwide `feminisation' of waged work (sub-contracting,
homeworking, casualisation, etc.), and the extent to which `to be a worker
is something relative', the recognition of the multiplicity of identities
is deeply subversive of any assertion of a single, universal, primary or
pre-ordained worker interest and union role. Chhachhi and Pittin go even
further, pointing out the limitations on self-organisation of time (its
availability), place (location of work/struggle) and space (the creation
of the psychological or strategic room for manoeuvre, negotiation and challenge).
Such an awareness would seem highly relevant to a period marked precisely
by `time-space compression' (Harvey 1989:Part 3), with shifting boundaries
of domination, with popular perceptions of this, and with consequent possibilities
for social-movement contestation. If, for example, labour movements continue
to assume the time-place-space constellation institutionalised by tri-annual
industry-level collective bargaining, or five-yearly national elections,
they are unlikely to be able to even understand reactionary, conservative
or anarchic popular responses to the increasingly violent disruption of
traditional time-place-space relations by an increasingly globalised and
Recognition of the increasing centrality of globalisation processes
has been growing amongst those interested in new social movements and struggles
against alienation. Anthony Giddens (1990) defines globalisation as such
an intensification of social relations that the local is shaped by distant
events. He considers that today local transformation can neither be understood
nor influenced without an understanding of globalisation. The nation-state
is increasingly felt to be either too big or too small to deal with the
full range of contemporary social problems. Globalisation, for Giddens,
has four main dimensions (none of which is prioritised): 1) the world capitalist
economy, 2) the nation-state system, 3) the world military order, 4) the
international division of labour. Confronting these we increasingly find
the following four social movements (similarly non-prioritised): 1) labour,
2) democratic, 3) peace, 4) ecological/counter-cultural. Each of these
in turn relates to a dimension of Giddens' `realistic utopia' or post-scarcity
system: 1) socialised (not socialist) economic organisation, 2) a coordinated
and democratised global order, 3) the transcendence of war, 4) a system
of planetary care. I would myself add two dimensions/movements, one relating
to patriarchy and one to communications/culture. I would also tend to prioritise
capital and state as globalising forces, though without necessarily giving
primacy to anti-capitalist or anti-state struggles (Waterman 1996a). Giddens'
original model itself, however, suggests the necessity of a new understanding
of internationalism, which I conceive in terms of a movement from labour
and socialist internationalism to a `new global solidarity' (Waterman 1996a,
Forthcoming, c.f. Drainville Forthcoming).
The historical origins of the new movements
There was, of course, a time when the old social movement (labour) or
old social movements (labour and national) were the new social movements.
In an interview with Melucci it is pointed out that all four of the features
he considers novel were present in the 19th century labour movement (Melucci
1989:214)! This suggests that contemporary movements may, in fact, be understood
as reviving and extending forms of action to be found in earlier democratic
social movements. Melucci agrees, and himself talks not of the disappearance
or irrelevance of trade unionism but about the manner in which it is being
today articulated with the NASMs (c.f. Mathews 1989).
The above is of considerable import, and for several reasons. Firstly,
of course, it establishes or re-establishes a connection with the labour
movement that some NASM theorists might like to forget or deny. Secondly,
it suggests that an additional crucial aspect of the new movements is the
new understanding of social movements. The new understanding enables us
to look at the old labour movement in new ways. Leninism, it now appears,
is not so much presently out-dated as originally one-dimensional. The one-dimensionality
comes out of Lenin's instrumental view of unions. They were means to higher
ends, a foundation for a structure built in his mind, `transmission belts'
to and from the Party, `schools of Communism' (Lenin 1970, 1976). The new
approach would enable us to view trade unions as social: i.e. either prior
to, or beyond, or more than, but in any case distinct from, the `political'
(in the traditional sense of pertaining to the state). We will later see
that they can also be seen as cultural phenomena. Thirdly, however, we
need to recognise that even if the classical labour movement - and its
contemporary expressions - do have the four `new' characteristics, they
were not usually aware of this. Whilst, for example, the 19th and early
20th century labour movement was intensely involved in highly original
and specific forms of what I call `alternative international communication'
(Waterman 1992), this was not something it ever reflected on. Such communication
would have been seen primarily as a practical instrument for other ends.
It is only with the development of the information phase of capitalism
that it becomes possible to conceive of a `mode of information' (Poster
1990), and to use this as a tool to theoretically examine the historical
roots, innovations and limitations of traditional international labour
The internationalist connection
The old socialist and thirdworldist internationalisms are today little
more than so many empty shells - a series of ideologically-defined, institutionalised
and competing internationalisms of politicians and officials having little
contact with workers or peoples. The NASMs are increasingly popular and
democratic because they are opposed to militarism, bureaucracy and technocracy
- to the concentration of power and information in the hands of ever smaller
numbers of managers, specialists and officials. In so far as such an increasing
concentration of ever-greater powers is recognised to be a universal phenomenon,
the new social movements tend to be globally aware and internationalist.
They have, indeed, been largely called into being by the increasing statification
and `inter-statification' (United Nations, International Monetary Fund,
European Union, North American Free Trade Agreement) of society.
We can, thus, also identify the outlines of a new kind of labour internationalism.
This is of the grassroots, shopfloor, community kind revealed by the British
miners' strike of 1984-5. The new labour internationalism is, significantly,
frequently interwoven with the internationalism of the new social movements.
If labour was most internationalist when, in the past, it was most closely
articulated with popular-democratic struggles, it is becoming once again
internationalist where and in so far as it re-articulates itself with these
(Brecher and Costello 1994). In so far as the traditional institutionalised
union internationals are attempting to again become meaningfully internationalist,
this seems to require a positive relationship with the internationalism
of the NASMs (for the impact of feminism on the ICFTU see Waterman 1996b:22-23).
Internationalist thinking is being increasingly called for by the `democratic
revolutions' that have been taking place throughout the Third and Communist
Worlds: these are transformatory socio-political movements in which labour
sometimes (not always) plays a significant role. These movements, as we
know, do not necessarily result in the creation of liberal-democratic regimes,
but they do allow for and require cross-border and global linkages that
were either undesired or impossible before. Out of such movements are coming
both reflections on and projects for a new kind of global labour solidarity
(Waterman 1991). And advanced labour-movement thinking in the West on the
future of unionism in the (ex-) Communist and Third World is increasingly
seeing it as part of one world of democratic labour struggle (MacShane
NASMs and political parties
We need to have an understanding of how new social movements relate
to political parties - particularly those populist or socialist ones that
claim a vanguard role over other social forces, or have the state power
to impose such. We can first ask how the relationship between social movements
and political parties is now perceived. More than a decade ago Manuel Castells
(1983:299) challenged the primacy traditionally accorded the political
party, suggesting that the crucial phenomena today are `self-conscious,
self-organised social movements'. Castells allows the necessity for political
parties, suggesting that social movements are there to move people, and
parties to negotiate and institutionalise the changes demanded or won.
There is here no disparagement of the party form, simply a denial of its
primacy, or its monopolisation of political space. If we accept this more
modest role for the political party, then what of its traditional leading
role (social democratic, communist, populist)? What kind of party is needed
by the new social movements? More than a decade ago, again, Tilman Evers
(1985:66) suggested these would need to rather be `rearguard' parties -
i.e. parties that would serve and support rather than leading and dominating
the social movements. The development of such a concept into a political
practice is not without difficulties, as is suggested by the development
of the Workers' Party in Brazil (Unger 1995).
In our increasingly diverse, complex but interdependent economies, polities
and cultures, it would seem, it is not unity but diversity that is strength.
It is, in other words, not so much a matter of trying to `raise' (actually
reduce) all the increasing variety to one `primary', `fundamental' contradiction
(class, nationality or - for that matter - gender). It is rather one of
recognising within the many movements the common democratic and pluralist
thread. And then finding a solidaristic and egalitarian way of weaving
these into each other. Feminist theorising/strategising on the `standpoint'
theory of knowledge (Harding 1992), on identity, alliance, leader-member
relations within movements and organisations, provides labour movements
with essential pointers here (c.f. Alperin 1990, Pheterson 1990).
The primacy of democracy
It should not need new social movement theory to convince us that democracy
must precede and underlie socialism. It was the original understanding
of Marx and Lenin also. It is, I believe, what actually inspired the two-stage
theories, now largely discredited because the language subordinated democracy
to class, treated `bourgeois democracy' as mystification and manipulation,
and then created a socialism in which democracy was not so much mystified
and manipulated as hollowed out. The point is made by Stanley Aronowitz
(1989:57), who refers not only to the experience of the Third World but
also to that of the industrialised capitalist and state socialist ones.
Whilst unions may struggle energetically for either liberal or some
kind of socialist democracy, they are today hardly considered as themselves
shining examples of democratic virtue, nor to necessarily demonstrate this
in relationship to each other, to local communities, toward other social
movements. DeMartino considers union bureaucratisation, professionalisation
and ritualisation as representing less an iron law of oligarchy than the
price paid for making collective-bargaining their central concern. He seems
to consider that democracy within the union is less guaranteed by workerist
demands for local union autonomy than by broadening the union's perspectives
and even giving full membership to others `affected directly and indirectly
by the actions of a particular industry or enterprise' (DeMartino 1991:49).
Whether or not one accepts this proposal, experience in South Africa suggests
that the process of internal democratisation and opening out do accompany
one another (Bird and Schreiner 1992). Brazilian experience suggests that
designing and developing union democracy is by no means an easy process
even in a new, dynamic and broad union organisation (Mineiro and Ferreira
1992, Unger 1995), it is nonetheless a necessary one.
A new role for intellectuals
Prioritising democracy has, in Aronowitz's argument, interesting implications
for the relationship between intellectuals and workers. It is no longer
a matter of the intellectuals bringing the necessary consciousness to the
workers. Workers today are experienced and educated enough to resist intellectuals
telling them what their consciousness ought to be. And intellectuals (today
a vast and varied category) can now relate to workers' and peasants' movements
in two other ways, 1) as `technical intellectuals', assisting and advising
movements, 2) as participants in middle-class organisations with which
the unions can ally (Aronowitz 1989:59). I find this a formulation that
is both insightful and promising. It reflects my own experience of the
role of intellectuals in the advance of the `new labour internationalism',
and communication for such (Waterman 1992, c.f. Lee Forthcoming). It is
promising in so far as it can relieve intellectuals of the duty of playing
the role of Marx and Lenin (or even Luxemburg and Gramsci) in relationship
to the national and international labour movements of their day. This does
not mean that intellectuals will no longer have the task of generalisation:
it does mean they will have to find manners of developing and communicating
theory that involve and reach workers in ways that overcome the traditional
division of labour within the labour movement.
A self-produced ideology and culture
If the above suggests a more egalitarian relationship between intellectuals
and workers, Aronowitz also reinforces my earlier criticism of the traditional
instrumentalisation of the unions. Although, with regard to the organisations
he identifies, the wish may have been father to the thought, an important
possibility and necessity is identified here:
Only the most myopic observer can regard Solidarity or the South African
Union of Mineworkers [sic] as traditional trade unions. Like the Sao Paolo
metalworkers, they are characterised by a whole network of cultural affinities.
The union is not primarily an instrumental organisation; it is the name
given to their communities... In the new movements, the union is the repository
of the broad social vision; it is linked to the neighbourhoods, as well
as to the workplace. In short, it is a cultural as well as an economic
form. (Aronwitz 1989: 61)
In this conceptualisation, therefore, the surpassing of the capitalist
division of social spheres (economic, political, cultural, etc) is not
simply a matter of external union alliances but of internal union self-transformation
(a similar point is made about women's movement politics internationally
by Melchiori 1996).
Democratisation within work and liberation from work
Struggles against authoritarianism within the wage-labour situation
are traditional to the labour movement, expressed in terms of `workers'
control', `workers' self-management' or `workers' participation'. Recent
writing here, however, is taking it beyond the traditional framework by
recognising the crisis of socialist strategies, by taking an international
perspective (including, for example, tropical African experiences and South
African union policy), or by making connections between labour demands
and those of the NASMs (see Bayat 1991). The work of Bayat is exceptional
in its address to democracy more generally, its awareness of the new social
issues and movements, and its response to a range of contemporary literature
on alternative social models. His conclusion on the possibilities existing
under non-authoritarian capitalist conditions in the Third World are that
control may take at least four forms: 1) `natural' workers' control in
the petty-commodity sector; 2) the democratisation of cooperatives; 3)
state-sponsored forms resulting from worker pressure (Malta); 4) union
attempts to influence enterprise management and national development policy
(tropical Africa), efforts of plant-level unions to counter employers'
attacks resulting from changing industrial structures (India) (172).
The struggle within work has to be combined with liberation from it.
Andre Gorz (1989) has produced a challenging critique of the ideology of
work that dominates the international trade-union movement as much as it
does the capitalist (or statist) media. This ideology holds that 1) the
more each works, the better off all will be; 2) that those who do little
or no work are acting against the interests of the community; 3) that those
who work hard achieve success and those who don't have only themselves
to blame. He points out that today the connection between more and better
has been broken and that the problem now is one of producing differently,
producing other things, even working less. Gorz distinguishes between work
for economic ends (the definition of work under capitalism/statism), domestic
labour, work for `oneself' (primarily the additional task of women), and
autonomous activity (artistic, relational, educational, mutual-aid, etc).
He argues for a movement from the first type to the third, and for the
second one to be increasingly articulated with the third rather than subordinated
to the first.
Gorz points out that, with the new technologies, it will be possible
within a few years, in the industrialised capitalist countries, to reduce
average working hours from 1,600 to 1,000 a year without a fall in living
standards. Under capitalist conditions, of course, what is likely to happen
is a division of the active population into 25 percent of skilled, permanent
and unionised workers, 25 percent insecure and unskilled peripheral workers,
and 50 percent semi-unemployed, unemployed or marginalised workers, doing
occasional or seasonal work. If the trade unions are not to be reduced
to some kind of neo-corporatist mutual-protection agency for the skilled
and privileged, they will, Gorz argues, have to struggle for liberation
from, as well as liberation in, work:
The liberation from work for economic ends, through reductions
in working hours and the development of other types of activities, self-regulated
and self-determined by the individuals involved, is the only way to give
positive meaning to the savings in wage labour brought about by the current
technological revolution. The project for a society of liberated time,
in which everyone will be able to work but will work less and less for
economic ends, is the possible meaning of the current historical
developments. Such a project is able to give cohesion and a unifying perspective
to the different elements that make up the social movement since 1) it
is a logical extension of the experience and struggles of workers in the
past; 2) it reaches beyond that experience and those struggles towards
objectives which correspond to the interests of both workers and non-workers,
and is thus able to cement bonds of solidarity and common political will
between them; 3) it corresponds to the aspirations of the ever-growing
proportion of men and women who wish to (re)gain control in and of their
own lives. (224. Original stress)
In case it should be thought that struggle against wage labour is the privilege
only of workers in industrialised capitalist welfare states (in so far
as these may still exist), it should be pointed out that it was with the
inter-continental struggle for the eight-hour working day that the international
trade-union movement was born in the 1890s, and that similar national or
international strategies have been proposed within Latin America (Sulmont
1988) and the USA (Brecher and Costello 1990a).
The importance of Gorz' argument lies precisely in its rooting within
international labour movement history and contemporary union concerns,
and the explicit connections made with the new social movements - or, if
you like, with those interests and identities of workers that unions currently
ignore or repress.
The option for radical engagement
It is sufficient for my purpose if these arguments suggest the kind
of resources available for those concerned with the critique of contemporary
unionism and the development of alternative strategies. My feeling is that
these writings are informed by a similar sensibility. In the language of
Giddens (1990:136), this is not the `sustained optimism' of the Enlightenment,
that science and expertise (Marxism and the Party?) will provide social
and technical solutions to all past, present and future problems. It is,
rather, that of `radical engagement' (137). Those taking this attitude
hold that although we are beset by major problems, we can and should mobilise
either to reduce their impact or to transcend them. This is an optimistic
outlook, but one bound up with contestatory action rather than a faith
in rational analysis and discussion. Its prime vehicle is the social movement.
3. A preliminary definition
What has been said above may suggest the distinction between the traditional
Leninist concept of political unionism and the new one of an NSU. I will
now translate some of the implications into a series of propositions with
direct reference to unions. By an NSU I mean that which is:
1. Struggling within and around waged work, not simply for better
wages and conditions but for increased worker and union control over the
labour process, investments, new technology, relocation, subcontracting,
training and education policies. Such strategies and struggles should be
carried out in dialogue and common action with affected communities and
interests so as to avoid conflicts (e.g. with environmentalists, with women)
and to positively increase the appeal of the demands;
2. Struggling against hierarchical, authoritarian and technocratic working
methods and relations, for socially-useful and environmentally-friendly
products, for a reduction in the hours of waged work, for the distribution
of that which is available and necessary, for the sharing of domestic work,
and for an increase in free time for for cultural self-development and
3. Articulated with the movements of other non-unionised or non-unionisable
working classes or categories (petty-commodity sector, homeworkers, peasants,
housewives, technicians and professionals);
4. Articulated with other non- or multi-class democratic and pluralistic
movements (base movements of churches, women's, residents', ecological,
human-rights and peace movements, etc) in the effort to create a powerful
and diverse civil society;
5. Working for the continuing transformation of all social relationships
and structures (`economic', `political', `social', `residential', `domestic',
`sexual', `cultural') in a democratic, pluralistic and cooperative direction;
6. Articulated with political forces (parties, fronts or even governments)
with similar orientations (i.e. which demonstrate their recognition of
the value of a plurality of autonomous social forces in an emancipatory
and transformatory direction);
7. Articulated with other (potential) allies as an autonomous, equal
and democratic partner, neither claiming to be, nor subordinating itself
to, a `vanguard' or `sovereign' organisation or power;
8. Taking up the new social issues within society at large, as they
arise for workers specifically and as they express themselves within the
union itself (struggle against authoritarianism, majoritarianism, bureaucracy,
sexism, racism, etc.);
9. Favouring shopfloor democracy and encouraging direct horizontal relations
both amongst workers and between the workers and other popular/democratic
10. Active on the terrain of education, culture and communication, stimulating
worker and popular culture, supporting initiatives for democracy and pluralism
both inside and outside the dominant institutions or media, locally, nationally,
11. Favouring direct shopfloor, grassroots and community contacts and
solidarity internationally, both with workers and with other popular or
democratic forces, regardless of social system, ideology or political identity
in the struggle to create a global civil society and global solidarity
12. Open to networking both within and between organisations, understanding
the value of informal, horizontal, flexible coalitions, alliances and interest
groups to stimulate organisational democracy, pluralism and innovation.
This specification has its own limitations: 1) it may be taken to suggest
that any union or worker movement has to fulfil the 12 Conditions before
it can join this Post-Communist International; 2) it does not spell out
the meaning of `articulated'; 3) it does not say who is going to transform
the resistant trade-union structures and procedures. In brief response
to these three points: 1) these are propositions to provoke change, not
conditions demanding loyalty; 2) the meaning of `articulation' is perhaps
best spelled out in the mentioned feminist writings on `difference', coalitions,
alliances and networking; 3) what is required is the presence of a new
alternative social movement within the unions - differing from the role
of the old socialist parties in being non-vanguardist, non-sectarian, non-bureaucratic...and
in itself proposing or addressing a plurality of worker interests and identities!
Conclusion: the value of the concept
The new concept - such as it is - has itself been drawn from NASMs and
new trade-union experiences, both of which have taken shape over the last
10 or 20 years. New labour movements, it is true, may have taken most dramatic
form in the context of semi-industrialised authoritarian countries. But
not all dramatic worker movements under such conditions give rise to NSUs.
Vanguardist or reformist political parties (locally based or foreign sponsored)
may dominate the political scene and shape the new worker movements in
traditional ways. In Spain, the radical potential of the Workers' Commissions
created in the struggle against Franco was absorbed by social democracy
(Fishman 1988). Nor is any new experience guaranteed of permanence. In
the case of Poland, people were talking as long ago as 1988-9 of `the obsolescence
of Solidarity' (Staniszkis 1989). In South Africa debate continues to take
place on how to preserve an autonomous and effective role for unions under
a post-Apartheid regime, and labour specialists seem to be now looking
backward to social democracy rather than forward to something new (Gelb
and Webster, 1996; South African Labour Bulletin passim).
Whatever the case here, we need to further note that the development
of some kind of NSU is not necessarily confined to the semi-industrialised
authoritarian countries. It can also - apparently and significantly - be
a product of the struggle against de-industrialisation and anti-democratic
developments under highly-industrialised liberal-democratic conditions.
The authors of a collection on the topic in the USA identify the revival
of the US labour movement in terms of labour-community alliances that may
escape the bounds of collective bargaining activity and the hierarchical
national union structures (Brecher and Costello 1990b, c.f. DeMartino 1991).
If we do, in any case, find moments or elements of a new kind of unionism
in the West and East as well as the South, and if we can also perceive
seeds of a new kind of labour internationalism in relationship to this,
further work on the conceptualisation of both might assist development
in a new and exciting direction. We should not try to force all new trade-union
realities into our new model. But we should at least see whether the model
does not have some reality. And if we (and ordinary workers and union members)
find it an attractive one, we could then try, experimentally, to advance
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